Indian diaspora in Korea
India’s diaspora population, which became the largest in the world last year, has played a vital role in the emergence of India as a global economic power. For example, in the Western world, Indians have achieved remarkable success in their business lives which, in turn, helped foster India’s economic ties with Western powers. India’s presence in Korea has also been very impressive given that the number of Indians in Korea has doubled over the last ten years. Although this increasing number of Indians are playing an important role in developing India’s economic ties with Korea, we have yet to reach our full potential.
Korea is very important for India. When India opened its market in the early 1990s, Korea was the earliest investor in India. In a time when other global companies were reluctant to invest in India’s newly liberalized economy, Korean companies took a bold step. Consequently, during the 1990s Korea became the fourth-largest investor in India. In 1997, The New York Times covered a special story on Korean investments in India, in which they asked Korean CEOs: you are investing in India, but will profits flow? KR Kim, who was head of LG Electronics India at that time, said “Even if we lose money for several years, we have the definite desire to stay here.” This underscores that from the beginning, Koreans have seen India as a long-term partner. Even today, they are keenly interested in India’s long-term projects whose executions are very crucial for the economic development of India. Thus, Korean investment is important for India.
Equally significant, India’s market has also become critical for Korea’s economic growth. This is because international circumstances are compelling Korea to go with India. Korea’s economic relations with its three major partners _ the U.S., China and Japan _ are declining now. Korea-U.S. economic relations, which have been declining steadily over the past two decades due to American protectionism, are expected to face a much tougher time after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Korean companies are also facing difficult times in China. Since Korea has decided to deploy a U.S. missile defense system, China has intensified economic retaliation against Korean companies. And, due to Japan’s economic stagnation and Korea-Japan historical issues, Japan is not a good option for Korea.
So what other options does Korea have in this region: it is to develop closer economic relations with India and smaller Southeast Asian economies. Even Korean policy makers, businessmen and scholars came to realize this fact. For instance, Korea’s Trade Minister Joo Hyung-hwan said last year, “Fostering close economic ties with India is the top priority for Korea.” Also, the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) last September argued that “Korea needs to deepen economic ties with India and Vietnam for its economic growth.” Furthermore, there has been a rise in the number of research projects in Korea on “how Korean companies can perform better in India.” I’m also part of a few such projects. Thus, it can be emphasized that not only India, but Korea is also keenly interested in strengthening bilateral economic ties.
Now the question is how Indian diaspora can contribute to promoting India-Korea economic relations. Indians in Korea can play a crucial role in various ways. For example, according to our survey research, there are more than 4,500 small and medium-sized Korean companies which want to enter India’s market this year. However, they are holding back due to various problems. They are looking for someone who can be a good facilitator. Indian diaspora can play that role because they know both countries very well. If one Indian takes responsibility to help one Korean company enter India, our bilateral ties will reach a new level.